The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

Groups like Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan openly recruit children as suicide bombers.

In Pakistan, at the nexus of South Asia, the scourge of terrorism is a relentless tide, with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) emerging as a particularly brutal force in this maelstrom of violence. The TTP, distinguished by its ruthless tactics, has become synonymous with suicide bombings designed to sow terror.

This examination of the TTP’s suicide campaigns aims to dissect the underpinnings of their strategy, their recruitment methodologies, and the repercussions for Pakistan and the international community.

Established in 2007 from the Afghan Taliban’s matrix, the TTP quickly made a name for itself with a spate of deadly attacks. Their doctrine, a contortion of Islamic principles, endorses a draconian interpretation of Sharia and is inherently opposed to Western ideologies. Their onslaught began with suicide bombings, targeting both strategic and civilian locales without prejudice. The year 2008 alone recorded an astounding 59 suicide bombings in Pakistan, surpassing the incidents in Afghanistan and Iraq combined and ushering in an era of mourning for the nearly 80,000 lives claimed by the TTP.

Among the TTP’s most heinous strategies is the recruitment of children as suicide bombers. It has become a disturbing norm for children to be inculcated into the TTP, with certain leaders specializing in the perverse education of these impressionable minds toward lethal ends. The TTP’s insidious propaganda targets the youth with a romanticized vision of warfare and martyrdom.

Internally displaced individuals are also identified as a potential pool for TTP recruitment. Those displaced by conflict or economic hardship are vulnerable to the enticements of extremist factions offering a twisted sense of purpose and community.

Qari Abdullah, a former senior leader, and spokesman, killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2017, was a proponent of deploying children on suicidal errands as executors of what he deemed “divine will.” The story of Murad, a boy coerced into the TTP’s suicide program, exemplifies the stark realities facing these children. Initially enticed by the power of wielding a weapon, Murad soon confronted the grim manipulation he was subjected to. Estimates indicate that between 1,200 and 1,500 boys, some as young as 11, were abducted from the Swat Valley and programmed to become suicide bombers, with many still missing, possibly conscripted into terrorist networks elsewhere.

The lawless expanse once commanded by Baitullah Mehsud, the former head of the TTP before he was killed in a 2009 U.S. drone strike, became a crucible for suicide bombers. FBI analyses suggest that 70% of bombers were mentored in camps led by Qari Hussain, Mehsud’s trusted lieutenant, who was also dispatched via a U.S. drone strike in 2010. Instructors like Maulvi Rahimullah manipulated Islamic scriptures to sanctify suicide attacks on military and civilian targets.

As part of their macabre curriculum, martyrologies of past bombers are glorified, and selective footage of bombers’ final acts are presented, omitting the aftermath to preserve the morale of trainees. The indoctrination stresses that those who perish in bombings are to be venerated as heroes, and their deaths are not to be mourned.

Maulana Fazlullah, the former head of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in Swat Valley before he met his demise from a U.S. drone strike in 2018, openly extolled the use of youth as tools for a purportedly greater cause, demonstrating the TTP’s entrenched belief in their mission’s righteousness. This deliberate exploitation of vulnerable children transforms them into clandestine agents of terror, skilled in breaching security barriers to reach their designated targets.

The TTP’s suicide offensives, founded on distorted beliefs and executed by coerced youth, represent a grave concern for Pakistan and beyond. The conscription and indoctrination of child soldiers is a stark human rights atrocity that necessitates global attention and action. To counteract the rise of extremist factions, it is imperative to address the root causes: poverty, lack of education, and political instability. It is the collective duty of the international sphere, the Pakistani authorities, and the Pakistani populace to collaborate in eradicating the networks that nurture terrorism.

Sahibzada Muhammad Usman holds a PhD in Geopolitics and is the author of ‘Different Approaches on Central Asia: Economic, Security, and Energy’.